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What is Memorial Day?

Published: May 24, 2023

On the last Monday of May, people across the United States observe Memorial Day. But what is this holiday? It may be the beginning of summer for many, but Memorial Day has a much deeper meaning. Since 1868, when it was originally known as Decoration Day, this federal holiday has represented a day to mourn members of the U.S. military who died in service to our country. It is common practice for families to place flowers or flags on the graves of relatives who died while in the military. Some also place flowers on the graves of their veteran relatives.

flags on graves

Origins of Memorial Day

Memorial Day has its roots in the late 1800s, when military losses from the Civil War topped 600,000 in four years of battle. On May 30, 1868, Decoration Day was declared a holiday by the Commander in Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic to honor all the Union soldiers who had died in the Civil War. The idea spread across the country. In 1873, New York recognized it as a holiday, and by 1890, the northern states had adopted the practice of putting flowers on soldiers’ graves. While similar practices were in place around the country for decades, it wasn’t until 1971 that Congress made “Memorial Day” an official holiday, observed annually on the last Monday of May.

Memorial Day Observances

While Memorial Day is primarily for mourning those who died while serving in the U.S. military, many people decorate the graves of all Armed Forces veterans who have passed away. Families take flowers and flags to cemeteries to leave them on the graves of veterans they knew. This practice honors their memories and reminds us to be grateful for the sacrifices others have made for our freedoms.

Some cities and cemeteries observe Memorial Day with parades, flags, and other activities. Military cemeteries, such as Arlington National Cemetery, decorate every veteran’s grave with a small flag on or near Memorial Day weekend. 

Other Holidays for Veterans

The meaning of Memorial Day sometimes gets confused with that of Veterans Day. Memorial Day is for those who died during their military service. Veterans Day, observed on November 11th every year, is designed to recognize all veterans, living and deceased. A third holiday, Armed Forces Day, caps off Armed Forces Week in May. It was established to thank all branches of the military for their service.

Remember these holidays:

• Armed Forces Day is on the third Saturday in May.

• Memorial Day is on the last Monday in May.

• Veterans Day is on November 11th every year.

New Bedford Military Cemetery Representation

New Bedford is home to many veterans. In addition, local cemeteries include the graves of many veterans, including war veterans. Pine Grove Cemetery has a section for military service members from World War I, and Rural Cemetery has Civil War, World War II, and Korea/Vietnam Conflict sections. Of course, these sections represent just a few of the many members of the military who died in service.

With decades of experience providing funeral and cremation services for veterans, we know how important it is to remember those who died in service to our country on Memorial Day. We also know how to honor local veterans with Military Funeral Honors, grave markers, burial flags, and so on. If you are a veteran and are considering planning your funeral services in advance, we encourage you to begin the process by learning more about veterans’ services. 

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